When is the right time to stop reading a book? The obvious answer is of course “When the story or explanation of a particular subject ends”, but sometimes it is not as easy as that. It stands to reason that for every good book written, there is at least one that is poorly paced, poorly constructed, or just plain bad. It is completely subjective, that goes without saying, but the bottom line is that at some point you will come across a book that will test your limits as a reader.
Take the novel I am reading at the moment, for example. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is considered by many to be a modern classic. It combines science-fiction, mystery and romance to create an engaging and vibrant world. It is also more than a thousand pages of militant Capitalism with seventy of those dedicated to explaining Objectivism to anyone who has not yet lost the will to live after sitting through yet another description of a train. The casual reader can tell why so many members of the Republican Tea Party and high-level businesspeople consider this book required reading and if you are looking for a way to help you understand how people of that political inclination or social position think, then this is the novel for you. Otherwise you would be forgiven for thinking (rather frequently) “Why am I still reading this?”
Now at this point you, the reader, has a choice to make. You can either soldier on, hoping that the author gets his or her act together in time for a decent ending, or you can quit. Just stop and read something else. It is a simple idea but an unthinkable one for many bibliophiles. They’ve already invested their time and often up to ten quid of their money and they will be damned if they are going to let the book win. The reading experience, one that should be entertaining, or informative, or in some cases both, turns into a battle of wills with the author-who will break and turn away from the turgid narrative first? The promise of victory over the book they find themselves reading is considered to be worth the time and effort they will have to continue to waste on it.
That said, giving up on a book may not be the way to go either. It might get better. You might actually find yourself invested in the story, no matter how ill-conceived or insulting to your sensibilities. You may actually find yourself slowly beginning to agree with what the author might be trying to say-a worrying development? Or one that proves you can still grow as an individual? Plus, there is the question of anal-retentiveness. Sure you could put the book down and try reading something else, but that strange, unpleasant feeling in the pit of your stomach that comes from leaving a job half-finished will not go away until you start reading said novel again.
Ultimately, the choice to continue reading a book that you know is not very good or defies you sense of logic is your own. But that’s not a very good answer, so instead I will conclude with a few helpful questions you can ask yourself next time it becomes a struggle to get through a chapter.
- Are you enjoying what you are reading?
- Are you sure, or are you just saying that?
- How many pages do you have left? Do you think you have the patience to make it through them?
- Ha! See, you’re counting pages! If you were enjoying the book, you wouldn’t be doing that.
- It’s not a stupid argument. Shut up.
- Would any of the chapters you have just read be improved with the sudden appearance of a man-eating crocodile or napalm?
- Do you actually know what is going on?
- Once you have established that, do you know what you have just read?
- Is there anything else on your book shelf you would rather read?